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RI ARTS

Midsummer in Providence means Fringe Festival and the Ukulele Armada

On the Rhode Island Report Podcast, Brien Lang strums the ukulele and talks about the two-week festival going on now in Providence

Brien Lang, director of new works at the Wilbury Theatre Group and co-founder of the Rhode Island Ukulele Armada, talks about the Providence Fringe Festival during the Rhode Island Report podcast.Carlos Muñoz

PROVIDENCE — Beatles guitarist George Harrison once wrote that you can’t play a ukulele and not smile.

Another musician once observed that “You can’t be an A-hole if you play a ukulele.”

Those sentiments were more than enough reason for Brien Lang to pick up the tiny, four-string instrument and co-found the Rhode Island Ukulele Armada, which has become a house band of sorts for the Providence Fringe Festival.

Lang, director of new works for The Wilbury Theatre Group, strummed his ukulele and talked about the Fringe Festival during the latest edition of the Rhode Island Report podcast.

Founded in 2014, Providence Fringe Festival is presented by The Wilbury Theatre Group in collaboration with WaterFire Providence, the Steel Yard, and others community partners.

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This year’s events run from July 17 to 30, representing the largest fringe festival in New England and one of the largest on the East Coast. It includes more than 100 performances and more than 300 performing artists from across the country.

“We expanded to a two-week festival in 2020 just because of the number of artists we have,” Lang said. “It’s all original works. It’s artists from all over the place. We have folks from New York, from the West Coast, coming in. Each piece is under an hour. Most of them are around 40 minutes. Really kind of original, edgy, funky stuff. A lot of music. A lot of performance-art type stuff. There’s some dance pieces.”

Lang explained that the first fringe festival took place, Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1947.

Midsummer in Providence means Fringe Festival and the Ukulele Armada
Ed Fitzpatrick performs a skit of his encounter with the "Mayor of Foster" for the Rhode Island Ukulele Armada. (Produced by Robert Eisenberg for the Providence Fringe Festival)

“There has always been a classical theater festival in the center of town, and all these artists were in town for that and they started doing their own funkier stuff on the outside, literally the fringe of the city,” he said. “Then that became even more popular than the traditional theater festival, and that model has been used in cities all over.”

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The Ukulele Armada had planned to perform on July 28, 29, and 30 presenting “We’ve Come Unstrung: The Armada Adventures Volume 1.″

“It’s basically the fake back story of the Armada,” Lang said. “We’re calling it something between the ‘Scooby-Doo’ mysteries and ‘The Partridge Family.’”

The Rhode Island Ukulele Armada Family Band: Vol. 1
A trailer for the Rhode Island Ukulele Armada's "We've Come Unstrung: The Armada Adventures Volume 1."

But the group had to postpone the show because of a COVID-19 case in the Armada crew. So now the The Wilbury Theatre Group plans to host the performance at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 5 and 6 at the WaterFire Arts Center in Providence.

The Ukulele Armada will be playing some of its greatest hits, including “I Know A Guy” and “Four Strings and the Truth,” and it will unveil a new piece that Lang wrote about “The Mayor of Foster.”

Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.